Surveying in 1879

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Surveying in 1879
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The decision had been made the previous year that the best route for the Canadian Pacific Railway was along the Burrard Inlet route but during the 1879, it was decided to confirm this decision by checking several northern routes across the province. Unless any of the northern routes were clearly better than the Burrard Inlet route, the decision would be made to start on construction. This was in fact done, the Canadian Government passed an Order-in-Council selecting the Burrard Inlet route on October 4, 1879 and contracts let to start construction in the Fraser Canyon by the end of the year (see the Onderdonk Sections).

Sandford Fleming, as Engineer-in-Chief of the CPR, directed several people, including Henry Cambie, the Engineer in charge of surveys in British Columbia to explore several routes starting from Port Simpson on the coast (near what is now Prince Report). The major routes being explored from Port Simpson were:

  1. The Pine River Pass
  2. The Peace River
  3. The Yellowhead Pass

Henry Cambie

Cambie started the season in Ottawa. He left on May 12, 1879 via the United States and arrived in Victoria on the 24th of May. He left on the Hudson's Bay Company steamer, the Princess Lousie on June 3rd. A couple of days later they arrived at Port Essington, near what is now Prince Rupert and explored Port Simpson and Wark Inlet. On June 7th, he left George Keefer to complete a trial survey up Wark Inlet from Port Simpson to the Skeena River valley and then up the Skeena as far as possible. Charles Horetzky was left in Port Essington to complete preparations for his explorations.

Cambie, Henry Macleod, George Dawson and Gordon left in two canoes up the Skeena River and reached the 'forks' on June 21st (known known as the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers at Hazelton). From there, they went by trail to the large Babine Lake, the location of a Hudson's Bay company fort, Fort Babine. From there they crossed by cart trail to Stewart Lake and were met by a boat which took them along the lake to Fort St. James for July 4th.

At Fort St. James, a Walter Dewdney was left with a small pack trail to support Charles Horetzky as needed. The main party left Fort St. James on July 8th with a party consisting of 6 staff, 14 packers, 2 "men" and 5 Indians for packing, boating, etc., 72 mules and 23 riding animals. With this party, they reached Fort Mcleod (also known as Trout Lake Fort and now known as McLeod Lake (')) on the 14th after an 80 mile trip.

Leaving Fort McLeod on the 16th, Gordon, Cambie and McLeod headed south and east down the Park River to the Parsnip River and then north down the Parsnip by boat. Dawson took the pack train overland and met up with Cambie and others on the Parsnip. The boat was used to ferry the pack train across the Parsnip River. Dawson continued east to explore the Pine River Pass.

Cambie and the others continued down the Parsnip River by boat on the 21st, passing the mouth of the Nation River before meeting up with the Finlay River, which creates the Peace River (this confluence is under Williston Lake created by the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in 1968). The party spent 3 days portaging around Rocky Mountain Canyon using horses borrowed from the HBC in Hudson's Hope. From Hudson's Hope, the party continued down the Peace passed the Pine River mouth, reaching Fort Dunvegan (north of Grande Praire, Alberta) on August 1st.

Having completed their journey from the coast to the praires, on August 5th, Cambie and McLeod continued their explorations south and easterly to the Smoky River with McLeod to go south-west to the Pine River and Cambie to go directly to Lesser Slave Lake. Cambie found his way to Sturgeon Lake instead of Lesser Slave Lake so headed east, crossing the Little Smoky River and reaching the western end of Lesser Slave Lake on August 19th. He returned to Fort Dunvegan using the HBC cart trail along the North Heath River.

Dawson and the pack train had arrived at Dunvegan on the August 17th and had explored to the south along the Smoky River. Gordon, who had arrived with Cambie had been exploring to the north and returned to Dunvegan on the 28th. McLeod returned from his explorations on September 1st. Gordon was dispatched east to send by telegraph the group's reports.

Mr. Major with the mule train was sent along the Peace River to the Pine River and up the river with plans to meet up with Cambie at the forks of the Pine River. Leaving on September 5th, Cambie travelled up the Peace River passing Fort St. John on the 12th, arriving at Hudson's Hope on September 15th. From Hudson's Hope, he went up to Moberly's Lake and was required to sent for assistance from Major to cross from Moberly's Lake to the Pine River. Rejoining Major and the mule train, they headed west and crossed the Pine River Pass on September 27th.

When the party reached the Nechako River, Cambie took a boat to Fort George (now Prince George]] then on to Quesnel on October 17th where he sent food back north to assist the mule train.

Charles Horetzky

From Hazelton, he reached Babine Lake on July 21st. He attempted to reach Kiskargrasse native village but was unsuccessful because the natives weren't friendly and he was having problems with his canoe. He surveyed south from Babine Lake along the Babine River in mid-August. He also surveyed up the Neelkitquah river from Babine Lake.

At the end of the season, he sent most of the men back to Port Essington, while he travelled via Stewart Lake to Quensel, reaching his destination on October 12th. He examined parts of Tacla Lake on his trip.

George Keefer

Keefer was charged with making a survey from Port Simpson up Wark Inlet, crossing over the height of land into the Skeena River valley and then up the Skeena.


  • Appendix 2 - Report on an Exploration from Port Simpson via the River Skeena, Lakes Babine and Stewart and the Peace and Pine River Passes to Lower Slave Lake, in the Year 1879, conducted by Mr. H.J. Cambie
  • Appendix 3 - Report on Explorations Made Between Port Simpson B.C., and Battleford N.W.T. Via the Valley of the Peace River, During the season of 1979, by Henry A.F. Macleod
  • Appendix 4 - Report on the Trial Location Survey, From Head of Wark Inlet up the Skeena River, by Mr. George A. Keefer
  • Appendix 5 - Report of Charles Horetzky Upon an Exploration Through The Northern Portion of British Columbia in the Season of 1979